Ross Whitaker’s latest film, Unbreakable, tells the story of Mark Pollack’s rehabilitation from an accident that left him paralysed from the waist down, his search for groundbreaking cures in the worlds of robotics and science, and his unbreakable spirit.
Here Ross shares with Film Ireland some lessons he learned making the incredible film.
Taking this film from start to finish was a six-year struggle and I learned a lot of things along the way:
I’m going to call bullshit on this straightaway. Rejection is horrible and who could ever love it? But in this game there is plenty of it. This film was rejected by funders a number of times before it was financed. It has been rejected by festivals and left unreviewed by newspaper critics. It’s a punch to the gut every time you don’t get what you need to make your film work out and it’s extra work to figure out what to do next. So, you must accept rejection and keep going and don’t let it drown you. Stay creative and stay committed to making your film as good as you can because…
The Audience is Everything
The response to this film from audiences has been overwhelming and surprising. I think it might be because the audience is maybe starved of real, truthful experiences at the cinema. Maybe filmmaking has got a little too slick. Maybe that’s why Ken Wardrop’s His & Hers was such a giant and deserved hit – simple, beautiful storytelling. We’re finding that audiences are really connecting to this story. The most important relationship is between the audience and the film and if you make something real and truthful then audiences will react positively. And the amazing thing is that an engaged audience will tell their friends and act as your best publicity. The boundary between audience and filmmaker is smaller than ever because…
The Internet has Changed Everything
My first feature – Saviours – was released in 2008 and back then Facebook was still really in its infancy and Twitter didn’t exist. The world has changed immeasurably since then and the fact that you can speak directly to your audience makes a big difference. Also, your audience can talk directly to each other and recommendations on Facebook, Twitter and through email are very helpful. In addition, if you’re not getting the newspaper coverage you want, maybe it’s time to start thinking a little differently. Online publishers like The Journal and RTE Ten actually have a massive audience and can be extremely useful in getting the word out. It’s important to have a strategy and to go as wide as you can. When we released our trailer we had a call to action for people to go ahead and buy a ticket and we put it out as far and as wide as we could. Within a few days our opening night was pretty much sold out, which in itself created buzz.
Hold On To Your Kitchen Sink
Watching the film now on the big screen, I’m glad to have had such a good editor in Andrew Hearne. There were times in the edit when I wanted to throw the kitchen sink at it, hire copter cams and do timelapse shots but Andrew felt it was better to keep things more focused on the story and not distract the audience with unnecessary visual flourishes. There’s a constant pressure to ‘be cinematic’ but there’s nothing more cinematic than a good story that sustains the duration of the film and keeps you engaged. So, sometimes it’s best if you don’t throw everything at it.
The End is Just the Start
“The end is just the start” is a line from the film but it could also describe the process of finishing the film and then beginning the new job of getting it out there into the world! It’s not easy and we’re learning a lot but I think the big thing is having a plan and implementing it. Our plan was to really get out there and meet people and hope to create enthusiasm around the experience so that the audience would get involved and recommend it to their friends. We are touring the country and doing Q&As almost every night. We’re meeting people and talking to them about their experiences and their lives. And we’re being extremely open with people about our experiences and the background to the film, giving them a unique understanding of the story and our motivations. It seems to be going well and it provides audiences with a real, tangible experience. At a later date we’ll reflect on what we’ve done right and wrong but for now we’ll just keep moving on to the next screening and Q&A. Maybe we’ll meet you somewhere along the way.
Unbreakable: The Mark Pollock Story is currently screening in the Light House Cinema in Dublin and touring the country. Screening information at www.markpollockfilm.com/